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Senior dining escapes state cuts
By Paul Maravelas
Despite a 15 percent cut in state funding that took effect last July, senior dining and Meals on Wheels programs continue to provide regular service to those 60 years of age and older throughout Minnesota.
The funding cut has been absorbed through increased contributions from clients, from local funding, and from cuts made in local program administrations.
The nutrition programs are funded by the state and federal government, by the seniors who use them, and local contributors.
Most of the funding is federal. For this reason, the state's 15 percent reduction didn't have much of an impact for Minnesota's senior nutrition programs.
In McLeod County, the funding cut won't have a visible effect on senior dining or Meals on Wheels, though it's too early to tell if the cut will have a ripple effect, said Kate Selseth, director of the Mid-Minnesota Area Agency on Aging.
Closure of under-used meal sites will probably be the first sign that the funding reduction is affecting services, Selseth says.
Meals in McLeod County were administered by Augustana Senior Dining until the end of 2003, but are now being administered by Nutrition Services Inc., a state-wide nonprofit organization based in Waseca.
Nearly 167,000 congregate meals and 45,000 home-delivered meals were provided last year in McLeod, Meeker, Kandiyohi, and Renville counties. Nearly 154,000 congregate meals and 64,000 home-delivered meals were provided last year in Wright, Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties.
In Wright County, senior meals are provided by Catholic Charities, based in St. Cloud. The organization asks seniors to make a suggested donation, and the amount suggested was raised from $2.75 to $3 in Wright and three other counties, said Lori Vrolson, executive director of the Central Minnesota Area Agency on Aging.
Site managers working in senior nutrition say the services are more than a "feeding program," because meals provide important social contact for seniors who might otherwise be isolated and lonely.
Sister Grace Donovan, who administers senior nutrition programs for Catholic Charities in Wright, Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties, said that her organization absorbed the state funding cut rather than cutting services or increasing the cost to participants. Catholic Charities has "a commitment to serve rural people," she said, and chose to contribute more of its own resources to cover the shortfall in central Minnesota, where many residents are rural.
Larry Kroeger, president of Nutrition Services Inc., administers programs in 35 counties in western and central Minnesota, including McLeod County. Kroeger said that his organization reduced administrative costs to absorb the funding reduction, so service to seniors won't be affected. He said the reduction in state funding amounts to only 5 percent of senior nutrition revenues.
In Winsted, Nutrition Services contracts with St. Mary's Care Center to prepare the meals, which are served at the American Legion. The Legion provides its facility without charge.
Throughout the state, Nutrition Services contracts with about 50 caterers, who hire their own staff and purchase its own supplies, and about 35 commercial kitchens, to prepare meals.
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